Do You Hear What I Hear? Four Styles of Listening

listeningIn all relationships, business or pleasure, communicating is not so much about what you are saying, but what those listening to you are hearing.

And since social media use and digital marketing in general is a never ending circle of talking and listening, it helps if you know what listening really is.

Listening: I Hear You!

I hear you is a common phrase. But listening isn’t hearing. Hearing involves sound waves, and eardrums, and the cochlea, and thousands of tiny hair cells, which turn vibrations into electrical signals that tell the brain you are hearing a noise, and what that noise is.

Complicated? Yes (thank YOU evolution), but anyone who’s been in a relationship or two knows listening is even harder.

We often say one thing while meaning another. Maybe we’re shy. Or don’t like confrontation. Or are just really passive aggressive! And trust me, when you’re saying one thing while meaning another, your body is giving you away. We give off physical cues (FBI types are trained to picks these cues up). We fidget, we sweat, our inflection reveals the truth, or maybe we aren’t making eye contact.

All that is well and good when you’re face to face with someone (or are a trained investigative detective) – but when commenting on a blog or interacting on social media, we don’t have the luxury of seeing those physical tics.

Listening Strategy

Let’s look at it this way: Hearing is the practical, and listening is the strategy. And as with most things strategic – there’s not one set in stone way to listen. But, as a communicator, you should know which of the different types of listening to use in each situation, and how to use those skills to your advantage. Here are four (of many) types of listening:

Appreciative Listening

Appreciative listening is exactly what it says it is. Listening done to enjoy the story, music or information being passed on. The American Society for Training & Development recommends that, in order to truly embark in appreciative listening, you should avoid engaging in other communications and focus solely on the sounds (or words) that you’re hearing for full impact. So, when someone is speaking to you, for heaven’s sake, put your phone down!

Critical Listening

Critical listening involves hearing what’s being said, identifying key points and/or arguments, and solidifying your opinion on a matter. Think a debate, or how you feel when listening to a politician speak. When engaging in critical listening, your goal is to analyze what the speaker is saying, and determine their actual agenda (if there is one).

Relationship Listening

Relationship listening is one of the most important skills you can have when dealing with people and communication. Also known as therapeutic or empathetic listening, you use your relationship listening skills to help a friend through a problem, solve conflict between co-workers and prompt people to open up through support and being open and honest.

Discriminative Listening

Discriminative listening causes you to look past the words and or agenda coming out of the speaker’s mouth, to detect what the underlying message is, and might be one of the most important types of listening for online marketers to practice. This works best in person, as you look to body language, change in tone and voice volume to tease out what the speaker is really thinking and feeling. But these days we’re often not “in person” with our clients or customers. That said, we’re all adapting to become better “online” discriminative listeners” as we engage more and more via texts, Facebook comments and snappy Tweets.

Understanding the difference between hearing and listening is a vital skill whether dealing with the boardroom or comments on your brand’s corporate blog.

What types of listening do you practice most in your day to day work?

Meet Lindsay Bell


Lindsay Bell is the content director at Arment Dietrich, and works in Toronto. A former TV producer, she’s a strong advocate of three minutes or less of video content. She has a cool kid, a patient husband, two annoying cats, and Hank, a Vizsla/Foxhound cross puppy. She's often busy.


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